An ignominious move for a soap opera that was once perceived as radical

Fiona Sturges
Friday 22 November 2002 01:00

Is this how Brookside ends, not with a bang but a whimper? Following a less-than-exciting hour-long episode, Channel 4's signature soap opera is finally leaving its week-day evening slots.

The ignominious move sees the soap floundering in a barely watched double bill on Saturday afternoons (the traditional home of its weekly omnibus edition) when most of the population will be glued to the sport or out shopping.

This change of status allows Hollyoaks, a trendier soap set around a student campus in Chester and populated by saucily-dressed young girls and boys, to take centre stage in the evening schedules.

When Brookside's contract expires at the end of next year, it is assumed that it will be axed altogether.

To be fair, there have been more than enough of bangs over the last few episodes. Earlier this month, a gang of gun-toting drug dealers stormed the Liverpool housing estate and held all the residents hostage.

The siege finally came to an end earlier this week when one of the gunmen shot at a police helicopter, bringing it down in the middle of the shopping parade. But anyone hoping for a fantastic Dynasty-style finale was in for a disappointment.

The last ever week-day episode found half the cast unconscious in hospital, and the other half weeping at their bedsides.

Even Jimmy Corkhill, a character who can usually be relied on to lift our spirits with a one-liner, just managed to mumble "time for a cuppa" before sloping off into a waiting room.

It's a sad end to a soap which, when it was first screened 20 years ago, was seen as radical.

In 1981, Crossroads was a laughing stock with its rickety sets and plank-like performances while Coronation Street was less of a soap than a situation comedy.

Brookside, on the other hand, used real sets (the soap's creator Phil Redmond purchased a whole housing estate on which to film the programme), had believable characters and near-the-knuckle storylines.

It was a programme that created genuine stars: Ricky Tomlinson, Sue Johnston, Amanda Burton, Anna Friel are all graduates of the Close.

It reached its peak in the mid-Nineties with tense plots involving rape and manslaughter. When Beth and Mandy Jordache stabbed Trevor in the kitchen and buried him under the patio, the nation was agog.

But when Brookside went to three episodes a week, things got out of hand. Since then we've had a sinister cult, a lethal virus, a gas explosion, several murders and cast members incarcerated in a Bangkok jail.

Whereas early controversial storylines tackled serious issues such as sexual abuse and domestic violence, the more recent ones have been all about titillation.

Sending brother and sister Nat and Georgia to bed together may have briefly raised the ratings but it lowered the tone. Given the abundance of action in it's dying years, perhaps it's only fitting that Brookie goes quietly.

At this rate, however, it may go by unnoticed.

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